[Book Review] Dawn

Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) / Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler always makes for an interesting and possibly uncomfortable read.  I've wanted to do something by her for Virtual Speculation, but I was torn between choosing something new or rereading Fledgling.  Dawn comes up often as a good place to start with Butler, so I went for it for the August read.

Lilith awakes alone in captivity, yet another awakening in an uncertain amount of time.  But this time, her captors introduce themselves.  It's been 250 years since humans nearly destroyed the Earth and themselves.  The humans that remain have spent much of the time since in stasis, rescued by the alien Oankali.  But everything has a price. The Oankali survive through the exchange of genetic information, not just among themselves to reproduce, but with other species.  Humanity has been changed on a physical and genetic level, changes made from an Oankali understanding of what is best.

Discussion Fodder:
  • How does the book discuss bodily autonomy and consent?  How many different ways is it addressed or violated?
  • The Oankali have a different sex/gender structure than the humans, with three sexes.  What do you think about to human interpretations of additional gendering of the aliens?
  • In what ways do the aliens correctly or incorrectly interpret human psychology?  What are the dangers of being different?
  • In an effort to allow the humans to start anew, develop differently, the Oankali destroyed much of human cultural history.  Was this a good idea, or misguided?  How much of who we are is shaped by what came before?
  • Lilith says "It's wrong to inflict suffering just because your victim can endure it."  How are the Oankali harming (or at least wronging) the humans in their captivity, how are they (actually) helping them, and what is a mix of both?
  • What symbolism comes with Lilith's name?  How does it feed into the story itself?

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